Saturday, October 08, 2005



PURPLE PATCH: Fascism —AJP Taylor

The oddest thing about Fascism nowadays is that even its advocates have to pretend to be ashamed of it. Fascism has become a dirty word, and a speech in its favour can be identified at once by the unfailing phrase: “Of course I have no sympathy with Fascism but ...”. We have to make do with less branded words like totalitarianism, authoritarianism, demagogy, and so on. It will save a lot of trouble when Fascism gets back into currency.

Fascism is a disease of democracy or at any rate of the mass-age. Dictatorship alone is not Fascism if it relies simply on force and has no popular backing. Fascism demands a mass-party where a few self-chosen leaders control a body of disciplined followers drawn from the disgruntled elements of society. Here is the starting-point of Fascism: a sense of grievance, social, political, national, even personal, it really does not matter what. But the psychology of resentment must be there, and if the resentment is unfounded so much the better. A Fascist party exists to express emotions, not to achieve results. Its programme is a mere rigmarole of high-sounding phrases, and if any of its aims are in fact achieved then others equally irrelevant have to be hastily botched up. Hence the futility of concession or appeasement to a Fascist party or country. Indeed, concession aggravates the resentment by exposing its irrational basis. Fascism has to be kept on the boil by parades and uniforms. Its demonstrations release pent-up emotions and at the same time generate fresh ones rather as an atomic reactor turns out more power than it consumes. The demonstrations must threaten violence. Later they must apply violence against some element felt to be outside the Fascist community — Jews, Slavs, coloured peoples. The actual choice of the victim has no practical sense. Hatred and persecution are practised for their own sake.

Fascist leaders are concerned only with power. Usually, indeed, they claim to be serving some national cause and boast of their patriotism. But this nationalism is not essential and the few avowed survivors of Fascism now present themselves as having been ‘good Europeans’ before NATO and the rest of it were ever thought of. Fascists will use any ideological cover as long as it brings them nearer to dominance over others. What do Fascist leaders do with their power when they get it? Mainly they destroy the obstacles to its unrestricted exercise. Fascists hate the Christian churches, the law courts, the trade unions, not as rivals but simply as brakes. They have nothing to put in the place of these institutions. Fascist law is merely the rule of the stronger. Fascist creeds are a jumble of dark emotions, incoherently expressed. Fascist morals, too, simply provide unlimited sexual gratification for males whose appetites are usually greater than their powers ...

A final point is often ignored. Even Fascist leaders cannot be irrational all the time. If they were, they would be certified and locked up before they had started on their political career. Since, by definition, they have no rational principles, they are wholly selfish in their sane moments. There is no example on record of an honest Fascist leader. All of them — Hitler, Mussolini, their followers and imitators without exception — grabbed at wealth as well as power. When you find a political community in which all the leaders are corrupt, you may guess that it is on the way to Fascism. Indeed Fascists in power (or out of it) plunder on such a gigantic scale that one is tempted to believe that they are rational after all — cheats and swindlers, not psychopaths. But this is wrong. Fascism is the irrational made vocal, and therefore any attempt to reduce it to rational terms defeats itself.

AJP Taylor was one of the most popular and controversial historians of his generation — known for his simple writing style and provocative ideas. His definitive works on British and diplomatic history became bestsellers and he was greatly admired for his television lectures. The above excerpt is from his collection of essays, published as ‘Politicians, Socialism and Historians’.

Contributed by Ammar Ali Qureshi


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